Homily 403 –St. Mary of Egypt
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
April 5, 2020
Epistle: (321-ctr) – Hebrews 9:11-14 and (208b) – Galatians 3:23-29 (St Mary of Egypt)
Gospel: (47) – Mark 10:32-45 and (33) – Luke 7:36-50 (St Mary of Egypt)
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
Our actions reveal who we are. Particularly in times of great stress. Stress reveals our current state.
Obviously today is a time of great stress. And we may well wonder – why? What loving God will allow this virus, or any tragedy, to affect His creation?
The revelation may very well be that God didn’t allow this at all. We did. It is a consequence that traces all the way back through human history to the fall of humanity in the Paradise of Eden.
To the extent that God may have what we experience as emotion, He was perhaps angry. Disappointed. But He loves His creation and honors the free will of His creatures – us.
It is the risk of free will – but the reward is love. Without free will, there can be no love. We know that to be true in our own relationships.
People do things that we disapprove of. Yet, in order that we might give love, and receive love, we have to endure, because of free will.
We have to recall the Sunday before the beginning of Lent when we heard of the Prodigal Son. The son makes a decision.
But the Father – our Father – allows it. I’m quite sure the father was disappointed and anxious, perhaps knowing full well what lay in front of His beloved. And yet, because of love, the Father said yes.
He didn’t have to – He could have said no, and forced the son to remain. But that would not honor free will, and that would negate love. Because through all of the son’s trials and tribulations, he knows that his Father loves him.
God can still use our circumstances to our benefit, however. If we use our circumstance to turn to Him – to re-turn to Him.
St. Mary’s actions revealed her repentance. The account of her life doesn’t reveal any great wealth, but the debauchery of her existence before encountering God was extensive. In the quote from her life, she tells us “Do not think that I refused the money because I was rich. I lived in poverty and worked at spinning flax. To me, life consisted in the satisfaction of my fleshly lust.”
Does that behavior sound remotely familiar?
I try not to be overly critical of our leaders, and pray for them and their enormous responsibility. We pray to be, basically, left alone to pursue our own salvation and repentance in peace.
In this time of stress, however, our leaders are providing for us their true motivation and character. As much as it pains me to say this, they reveal their idolization of the economy. Society doesn’t worship God.
Society worships mammon. We have to admit this.
Even at the cost of human lives. The greed, and the apparent belief that wealth is the only criterion of a successful life, is abhorrent to the follower of Christ.
Like many societies before us, our society has divorced itself from God. And God awaits our return to Him in repentance. He stands, like the Father of the Prodigal, ready for us to return, looking for us, ready to run and meet us.
And she took that opportunity for repentance, was baptized, and retired to live alone in the deserts for forty-seven years until discovered by St. Zosimas, himself on a solitary Lenten retreat. Alone, in the desert.
And like Zosimas, and Mary, we find ourselves being asked to retreat from the world, from each other, and be alone with our family and with our God.
And an opportunity for us to re-imagine how life might be different when we emerge from this. To commit now to repentance – change – of our lives and our direction and our goals.
As a starting point, perhaps we learn to appreciate what God offers us in the church, and in Holy Communion. It is an important part of our life, not because of some sort of supernatural or magical property.
But rather because the services of the Church reveal to us the reality of heaven, and teach us to model that in our own life, and in our own heart.
We are shaped by the prayers of the Church so that we can replicate the action within ourselves, and worship God with the altar of our hearts.
That isn’t to say that church, and communion isn’t important – because it is really critical to our formation. Like the hands of a potter shape the clay, the prayer and sacraments of the life of the Church shape us.
And this time, this isolation will shape us as well. Will it shape us in the image of God? Or in the image of the world and its god?
Will our home and relationships be economic engines or living organisms consecrated to God?
Perhaps at least, at a minimum, we can commit to one another – but mostly to ourselves – to emerge from this time knowing what preparations we need to make in order to maintain the Church of our hearts and minds.
To foster within us a focus on our return to our Father who loves us, and patiently awaits our decision.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!